Thursday, May. 23, 2024

Officials Respond In Aftermath Of Rolex Kentucky Tragedies

The U.S. Equestrian Federation and U.S. Eventing Association presidents address the accidents in Kentucky.

During the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, April 26, Laine Ashker suffered a serious fall during the cross-country stage of the competition. She’s currently in critical condition at the University of Kentucky Hospital in Lexington. Laine’s horse and another involved in a separate accident had to be euthanized.
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The U.S. Equestrian Federation and U.S. Eventing Association presidents address the accidents in Kentucky.

During the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, April 26, Laine Ashker suffered a serious fall during the cross-country stage of the competition. She’s currently in critical condition at the University of Kentucky Hospital in Lexington. Laine’s horse and another involved in a separate accident had to be euthanized.
These accidents come just a month after Darren Chiacchia, an Olympic rider, had a serious fall at an event in Tallahassee, Fla. They also come in the wake of an April 9 article in the New York Times about 15 rider fatalities in cross-country that have occurred worldwide over the past two years.

These accidents have hit us hard in the sport of eventing—we are all riders who care deeply about the horses, their welfare and the image of the sport. For us, the issue is also a personal one.

This spate of accidents has raised important and potentially troubling questions for those of us who govern the sport: Why are so many riders and horses having accidents? Is there more that can be done to make cross-country safer? Is the sport just too dangerous?

There’s no question that eventing is a demanding and yes, risky sport. Riders cross undulating terrain at high speed and jump a series of challenging fences—all while atop a 1,000-pound horse. So there’s a constant need for us to ensure that every precaution is being taken to reduce the risk of injury to riders and horses.

Although we have implemented several measures to improve safety over the past year, clearly more needs to be done. In the coming days and weeks, we will be redoubling our efforts to identify additional steps we can take to make sure that riders and horses can compete as safely as possible. We would like to ask your
help in this effort—whether you’re a rider, trainer, coach, veterinarian or simply a horse enthusiast.

We invite each and every one of you to the USEF/USEA Safety Summit to be held in Lexington, Ky., June 7-8. We will break the issue of safety down and examine the causes and potential solutions with some of the best minds in the game. In the meantime, if you have immediate thoughts about how we can improve the safety of cross-country, please e-mail them to us at: safetythoughts@usef.org and/or safety@useventing.com.

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Over the past few days, we’ve received e-mails from people who were at the Rolex event over the weekend and were disturbed by what they saw. They are asking hard questions of us and questioning whether they should continue to support the sport of eventing. To them and to you, we want to say that we too are disturbed by what we see. No matter how much we tell ourselves that injury is a part of our sport, it’s always traumatizing to see a horse fall.

Therefore, we’re working closely with Fédération Equestre Internationale to do whatever we can to better protect riders and horses and to repair the public image of our sport. We are proposing today that within the United States the following five initiatives be put into effect:

1. If a horse has a rotational fall, horse and rider are suspended from competing for three or six months.
2. If a horse has a rotational fall, horse and rider lose their qualification at the level at which they are competing.
3. If a rider falls off on the course, he or she is eliminated.
4. Open oxers on courses at every level are made with frangible parts.
5. If a horse falls related to a jump, both horse and rider are suspended from competing for one month.

We don’t have all the answers; we are deeply concerned about what is going on in the sport of eventing and we need your help. 

David O’Connor and Kevin Baumgardner



David O’Connor has earned three Olympic medals in eventing, including individual gold in 2000, two Pan Am Games medals and two World Equestrian Games medals. He won the 2001 Rolex Kentucky CCI**** and was the second U.S. rider ever to win the Badminton CCI**** (England) in 1997. O’Connor retired from international competition in 2004. Kevin Baumgardner has evented for the past 15 years, up to the advanced and CIC** levels. He attended Michigan State University and Columbia Law School (N.Y.) and is a trial lawyer by trade. He’s a partner at the Seattle law firm of Corr Cronin Michelson Baumgardner & Preece. Baumgardner has been on the USEA Executive Com-mittee and the USEF Eventing Technical Committee since 2005.

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